Crikey article was ‘patently hyperbolic’, editor argues

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A Crikey article saying the Murdoch family was an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Jan. 6 riots was “patently hyperbolic,” the publisher Private Media argued in court papers defending a Lachlan Murdoch libel suit and filed in federal court. .

Last month, the News Corp co-chairman filed a libel suit against the independent news site over an article by politics editor Bernard Keane headlined “Trump Is a Confirmed Insane Traitor. And Murdoch is the unindicted co-conspirator.”

Murdoch launched proceedings after the website republished the article on August 15, after initially taking it offline when Crikey’s editor-in-chief Peter Fray received a notice of concern on June 30.

Crikey then published all the legal correspondence between the lawyers for both parties and bought a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and the Canberra Times inviting Murdoch to sue them.

Related: Lachlan Murdoch vs. Crikey may turn out to be an ill-conceived adventure in reputation repair | richard ackland

Private Media claimed three defenses: the new public interest defence, the implied freedom of political communication, and the failure to accept a reasonable offer of redress.

The company said the article did not suggest the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy.

“No one would interpret the words literally as suggesting that the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy or treason under American law,” said the defence, appearing in federal court ahead of a preliminary hearing with Judge Michael Wigney in Sydney on Friday.

Murdoch has hired solicitor Sue Chrysanthou SC and solicitor John Churchill and Private Media has solicitor Michael Hodge KC, who was an assistant royal commission solicitor in banking.

References to the Murdochs in the article used “creative license to return to the notorious identification of [former US president Richard] Nixon as the ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in Watergate and drawing a parallel to the January 6 riots,” the defense said.

Private Media said the article did no serious harm to Murdoch due to his alleged “bad reputation…among Australians for his role as CEO of Fox News”.

Murdoch is not the CEO of Fox News, he is the CEO of the parent company, Fox Corporation, and Suzanne Scott has that role.

Private Media argues that the references to Murdoch were a statement of Keane’s opinion, “based on his knowledge of extensive reporting on Fox News’s involvement in the events leading up to January 6 and the Murdochs’ role as the masterminds behind the scenes.” of Fox’s editorial strategy and programming”.

Neither Keane nor Fray felt it necessary to contact Murdoch for comment because he was not the target of the article and the article was an opinion piece, not a news report.

At the time of publication, Fray and Keane, both respondents, were aware of the importance of free speech in discussing matters of public interest, they said.

Related: ‘What game is he playing?’: Lachlan Murdoch, Trump’s election lies and the legal fight against a small Australian website

In their lawsuit statement filed last month, Murdoch’s attorneys said Crikey used the legal threat to push subscriptions. When it was first published on June 26, the article was viewed approximately 6,867 times until it was removed; after it was republished, it was viewed 58,380 times.

Murdoch’s lawyers said the article, headline and related social media posts contain a series of “highly defamatory and false accusations about him,” were not in the public interest and were part of a cynical plot to harm Murdoch.

In response to the defense filed in federal court, Murdoch’s attorneys said they will ask the judge to strike out much of the Private Media defense because it is “embarrassing and irrelevant to any facts at issue, except insofar as they were matters in question.” [their] minds”.

Paragraphs that Murdoch’s team said are irrelevant include a timeline detailing how Keane told Fray that he had seen Cassidy Hutchinson’s evidence before the January 6 committee and that he should write about it and that Fray agreed. agreement; and Keane’s “extensive university qualifications in history, including a PhD” and “extensive experience working in the Commonwealth public service in Australian media policy”.

The defense included a list of Keane’s articles, as well as media comments related to Fox’s role in the January 6 riots.

“Both Mr. Fray and Mr. Keane firmly believed that: The references to Mr. Murdoch were a statement of Mr. Keane’s opinion, based on his knowledge of the extensive reporting of Fox News’ involvement in the events leading up to to January 6 and the role of the Murdochs. as the guiding minds of Fox’s editorial strategy and programming,” the defense said.

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